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Strong zoning and codes key for borough and its residents: Editorial

Posted 11/20/19

In an editorial more than two years ago, we stated that “code enforcement and zoning might sound boring, but they can help make our borough a more attractive place to live and …

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Strong zoning and codes key for borough and its residents: Editorial

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In an editorial more than two years ago, we stated that “code enforcement and zoning might sound boring, but they can help make our borough a more attractive place to live and work.”

We left out another important part of code enforcement and zoning: It can make our community more safe.

A good recent example: Zoning & Codes Officer Al Geosits had twice cited Middletown Associates, the owners of Woodlayne Court, for a summary violation for having a faulty fire alarm system. Then came $2,000 in fines earlier this month when District Judge David Judy found the complex guilty of the two citations.

The apartment building’s fire alarm is supposed to automatically trigger a monitoring company to notify 911. It does not, Middletown Volunteer Fire Chief Kenton Whitebread Jr. said.

At first blush, these zoning rules and codes might seem frivolous. Some commenters on the Press & Journal Facebook page, for example, have been critical of how the borough has cited the owner of the HE Group Chinese restaurant at North Union and East High streets over issues involving his parking lot.

But it is pretty clear that restaurant owner Howard Dong is running afoul of the codes, as it relates to stormwater. If Dong does not correctly fix the problem, there could be stormwater or runoff issues with the restaurant’s neighbors. That’s why the rules are in place.

We reported that the proposed general fund budget for Middletown for 2020 adds a new full-time codes position to work under Geosits. We think it is necessary.

Our editorial we referenced at the beginning of this piece discussed blighted properties in the borough. We stated our hopes that Bunky’s on South Union Street would be upgraded in some way.

Through efforts of codes of zoning, and others, the property eventually was sold and is now undergoing quite a transformation — all to the benefit of the borough and its residents.

In January 2017, then-council member Diana McGlone said: “anybody who has a blighted property in this borough is now put on notice — we will be coming.” She then added: “I would advise blighted property owners in the borough to clean up your properties or reach out to borough staff for assistance, because we will be knocking on your door soon.”

She listed Bunky’s, the so-called “leaning house” on Mattis Avenue, and a dilapidated yellow residential property at the square. While the leaning house has yet to be resolved, the yellow house on the square is much improved, isn’t it? It has a completely new look, after being cited by the borough for its condition.

Look at the other stories we have reported on lately in which codes and zoning have played a key part: the “raised house” at Maple and Adelia streets; the borough’s prohibition against more than two unrelated people living in the same single-family dwelling that has come under fire by Penn State Harrisburg students; a report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the borough detailing possible violations of floodplain ordinance requirements regarding 37 properties in the floodplain, which resulted in a public meeting in July.  

And let’s remember one of the biggest stories in recent years in Middletown: the proposed crematory on North Union Street behind Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home, which involved filing of permits with the Middletown Zoning Hearing Board.

Boroughs and townships need strong codes, and properly trained personnel to enforce them. This combination helps protect the borough and its residents and businesses. It helps keep everyone safe, and properties looking better.

We look forward to seeing what kind of improvements two full-time zoning and codes officers will make in the borough. If the last few years are any indication, the borough is heading in the right direction in this area.